LODI, Calif. (KTXL) — Five days ahead of Memorial Day, members of the Stockton Historical Club placed 2,800 American flags on a lawn at Cherokee Memorial Cemetery in Lodi, representing more than 6,600 United States service members who were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Among their ranks Thursday were two men who survived the war that took more than 400,000 thousand American lives.
Major William White, just a few months shy of his 106th birthday, is recognized as the oldest living Marine.
“I’ve been a Marine for 87 years,” White said.
Major White enlisted in 1933, during a time of peace for the U.S., but would soon be thrust into World War II.
Retired Marine Corporal Frank Wright enlisted in 1942 when he was 16.
“Pearl Harbor situation, and the other I wanted to be in the Marines because they have just great uniforms,” Wright said when asked why he enlisted.
Though separated by age and division, the two men found themselves in Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, as Americans seized the Japanese territory — the day American flags were raised over the island.
An iconic photo captured the moment Marines planted a second, larger American flag.
“When they raised that second flag, I was directly underneath with 12 of my men, 500 feet down from Mt. Suribachi,” White said. “I didn’t know about it at the time but I found out about it later. This is what happened, I was there.”
“We thought the flag meant that Iwo Jima was ours,” Wright said.
Victory wouldn’t come for another month, but Wright clearly remembers what seeing that flag fly meant to him.
“It energizes and it gave you a great feeling to see the flag go up, there’s nothing that can replace the feeling at that time. It was victory as far as we’re concerned and that’s what we were fighting for, for our freedom,” he said.
“It is for us, the living, rather, to assure they should not have died in vain and that liberty of the people, by the people, for the people should not vanish from this earth,” White said.